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Reply to Pia, 31 July 2008

From: Anselm Lingnau
To: strathspey@strathspey.org
Subject: Re: The RSCDS dance publication process
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 14???21 +0200

Pia wrote:

It is also a matter of priority - if we have to spend several hours researching why a dance 10 years or more ago did not or did have a preferred tune, and why that tune was or wasn’t used in order to pacify several RSCDS members, then there are less time to deal with researching where there are ‘isolated’ dance groups who could do with a helping hand. Not that it isn’t important to the people who devised the dances etc., of course it is - as someone said it is their baby, but it was a wee while ago.

The point is that we could have saved ourselves those hours (not to mention five times that many hours debating and justifying the research, or non-research as the case may be, for years afterward, and yet to come) by making a ten-minute phone call when the time was right. Of course this implies a cultural change. Fundamentally conservative organisations like the Society do not tend to go for cultural change in a big way, which is often a good thing but not always.

It is a fine balance of servicing the members, listening to all the ideas, suggestions, critique, grievances etc that are now, due to the change in the communication environment and the change in how the Society is run, coming to the fore and also ‘opening up new markets’ when you are only a handful of people trying to do everything, for everyone.

This is the “us vs. them” thing all over again. It’s not as if you are twenty-five people fighting for survival against an assault of 17,000 orcs from Mordor.

Nobody says that the Management Board and committees need to carry the weight of the whole world upon their shoulders. I get the impression that, given this attitude, the first order of the day would be to figure out how to devolve more of that weight to other people who volunteer to do stuff. We’re in the 21st century now, and if that means that the Society needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to a point where its procedures allow farming to-dos out to those people then so be it.

For example, consider the “outreach programme” mentioned earlier. We would have to nominate a person to be a volunteer “outreach coordinator”. This person would not have to be Scots but would need to have a modicum of Internet chops or be willing to learn (fast). The outreach coordinator’s mission would be:

  • To talk to groups within and without the Society (such as Bob McArthur’s people in Poland) who are interested in holding micro-workshops to kick-start SCD in places where there are people willing to volunteer as teachers (for example, students who spent time in Scotland and got the SCD virus there); if required these workshops would include “teacher clinics” to cover basic didactics like the proper timing for ready-and, counting, breaking a formation down into basic movements, and so on, plus any questions that there may be. This would be way below the level required for Unit 2/3, just enough to give people a heads-up, to enable them to keep their group going in a place that otherwise would not have SCD at all, and to send the message that the Society is there for them when they need it. Formal tutoring and exams can always come later.

  • To maintain a list of such groups and the dates that they would like to hold such workshops on;

  • To maintain a list of teachers (and possibly musicians) willing to give their time to hold such workshops and the dates that they are available (travel to be paid by the Society, accommodation, food, etc. to be provided by the destination groups). These teachers would not necessarily have to be the big-name vetted-to-teach-at-St-Andrews types; people with reasonable teaching experience who would ideally be able to speak the local language of where they might go would be quite satisfactory for the purposes of the programme.

  • To match dates between these lists and put the relevant people in contact with one another – where the matching would be such that travelling expenses and language barriers would be minimised;

  • To oversee that this effort is doing what it is supposed to do, e.g., by collecting feedback from the groups and teachers after the event, and to report to the Management Board/Education committee/what have you on this.

The notable thing about this exercise is that much of the administrative work can actually be done over the 'net once a few basics are established. These basics could be put together, from pre-fabricated pieces of software widely available for free, during the course of a week or two by a qualified person working, like the outreach coordinator, from essentially anywhere in the civilised world. If outreach coordinating proves too much work for a single person, make it a team of three; the job should scale horizontally very nicely. Institute “outreach@rscds.org” and “http://outreach.rscds.org” and publicise these addresses everywhere so people can easily find this service.

I would also like to ask how many of the oft heard grievances are historical? but perpeturated ad infinitum? And how many are recent? Not that there are no mistakes or errors now, of course there is.

The historical grievances come up again and again not because people like to root around in bygones but because they think the grievances are still unsolved and/or the same thing could happen again any day. The way to get rid of such issues is to ensure that they are actually buried three metres deep with a pointed stake through their hearts. If this means publically admitting that we had it wrong then, well, this is just too bad. So the Publications Committee at the time changed the ending of Last of the Lairds in Book 22 and Hugh Thurston didn’t actually like the change? The correct answer to somebody bringing this up today is not “These are our books, and we get to decide what’s in them” but “Well yes, that seemed the right thing to do at the time – nearly 50 years ago, as a matter of fact –, but apparently it wasn’t quite. We have changed our policy and procedures such that things like this are not going to happen again. In the meantime, here’s a description of The Second-to-Last Of The Lairds for you, which is a dance by Dr Thurston.” Just an example.

I’ve been running this list for nearly fifteen years now and I shall be the first person to admit that I made more than my share of embarrassing boo-boos (especially ones that seemed a good idea at the time but later on turned out to be lemons the size of watermelons). Funnily enough, people still talk to me. The lesson I take from this is that if we manage to be correct and reasonable most of the time we will be allowed to be human every so often.

Things are changing for the ‘better’ - Communication still needs worked on, but it is getting there albeit slowly.

I think communication is the key issue that we have to sort out, actually. This means communication between the governing bodies and the membership as well as communication between the members of the governing bodies themselves.

For example, why do technique questions have to be passed from HQ to a committee with the answers going back the same way in reverse? And why does the “Technique Q&A” page not actually say where questions should be sent in the first place? The way I would handle this is by means of a “blog” (similar to Lara’s “8x32” blog for posting new dances) to which members of the technique sub-committee would be able to post contributions, together with a “technique@rscds.org” address that would redirect to those people. This address would be published in prominent places (web site, magazine). Incoming questions of the sort that somebody of, say, Malcolm Brown’s calibre could handle outright could be answered outright (possibly with suitable caveats attached). More difficult ones could be debated among the committee members on a private or dedicated public mailing list (or even on Strathspey) and an answer posted later. People could (shock horror) comment on the posted answers. You could even have a little survey widget on the side to find out what people think about the contentious issue of the week.

The point to note here is that, most of the time, the Society is not called upon to make infallible, final ex-cathedra pronouncements on points of technique, on many of which there is no unanimity, anyway, and which are likely to change gradually as fashion evolves over decades (think the speed of the music, or how high the foot goes on the leg during strathspey setting). People are asking these things because they want practical guidance ASAP, not a fully researched treatise with three pages’ worth of bibliography six months from now. (Anyone wanting to take the trouble to prepare such an answer in addition to the timely guidance would of course be welcome. The magazine folks would probably also suck this up.) If we remove the requirement to run all of this stuff through HQ and put the technique sub-committee in direct contact with the people asking the questions we have, in one fell swoop, brought the technique people into much closer contact with the membership (and yes, I would like to see exactly who writes these little technique items, too – give credit where it is due), have spared HQ staff the drudge work of forwarding technique questions to the technique sub-committee chair and putting the answers back on the web site, and opened an avenue for further involvement by the membership at large through the possibility of comment.

Again, the infrastructure for this can be set up over a weekend by someone who knows how to do these things – and there should be people in the Society who are at once (a) qualified to answer questions on technique, (b) able (or willing to learn how) to type text into a web browser window, and © mentally agile enough to make the transition in personal outlook from sub-pope to help-desk person. Find these people and get them on the technique sub-committee. (And if the blog has been running for a while, recruit replacement members, as required, from those people who post sensible comments to the articles.)

Perhaps someone who is paid to have an overall view can help making everyone feel a little bit better, and make the RSCDS a little more exciting for old and new potential members.

“Perhaps” doesn’t cut it for me. How is somebody doing this as a day job going to perform better than all the people we have who have been involved with dancing for years on end (sometimes their entire conscious lives) and whose very life-blood ought to be in keeping the Society on track and improving it? If there are old fogeys in the Management Board who resist all change as a matter of principle (and I’m not implying that there are) they are certainly not going to change their ways because some upstart employee (who may not even be a dancer) tells them to.

Anyway, are we really asking someone to stake their professional and personal future (at least for the mid-term) on “Perhaps you can make us feel a little bit better”? This is how you look for a therapist, not search for an employee to serve as an executive officer. As an applicant for the job I would really like to be told “We’re looking for someone dedicated who will go in there and fix this, and if what you come up with looks anything like remotely reasonable you will have our full support”, instead. I wouldn’t want to be out on the street again two years later with a reference saying that I did suggest some interesting things which were killed in a board meeting because they were perceived as too sweeping, and they had had to lay me off because there wasn’t enough money left to go around. Not good.

Member of the Anselm for President campaign :>)

Whoa. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Also consider that unconventional Special Forces grunts never make Chairman of the Joint Chiefs anyway :^)

Well, there goes my (late) lunch hour. I must make a point of reverting to sheep mode.


Anselm Lingnau, Friedberg, Germany … anselm@strathspey.org
It was nearly an hour and a half before Fortenberry was done. He had cast out
the demons of every ailment, crime, domestic problem and intellectual
discipline on the face of the Earth. He cast out horoscopes, false gods,
witches, intellectual pride, nearsightedness, everything, it seemed to me,
except maybe E. coli and John Updike novels.
– Matt Taibbi attends a “Christian Zionist” encounter weekend

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